This is truly amazing. Potential to save half a million lives per year! Hats off to Bill Gates and his foundation. see – To Fight Malaria, Scientists Try Genetic Engineering To Wipe Out Mosquitoes
However, like many other technological changes, this also comes with potential risks. see – New Genetic Engineering Method Called Promising — And Perilous. Some of them have the potential to qualify as ‘existential’, The US Government is already building antidotes…
Think about it. Couple of such inventions, and we have simultaneously created as many sources of threats.
That brings me back to the theme I have been talking about over and over again and which was the topic of my presentation at World Future Society 2 years back – Living with exponential growth and threats.
Seems as we make progress, we are also creating sources of our own demise.
Does it mean, we have to choose between growth and safety? Well, growth can’t be stopped. It is a result of core human nature and hence is practically unstoppable.
But we do have choice – we can work towards growth, but with safety.
I agree, there have already been talks of safety. see – New Genetic Engineering Method Called Promising — And Perilous. But the efforts towards safety are way behind, when we consider the level of risk …
- The risk here is potentially total extinction of our specie.
- The upside is that within couple of centuries, with the momentum we have in technological advancements, we could practically become immortals, with capability to handle all the risks we currently have.
In a way, the situation is more drastic than being between ‘life and death’ – it is like a choice between ‘immortality and death’ – meaning if we avoid death now, we would never need to die!.
When we are on such a critical cross road, it is clear that the efforts towards safety are next to nothing.
So what all do we need to do as a measure of safety?
Well, first, I am not a safety expert and so obviously don’t know.
I don’t even know what would need to be done if we knew today that an asteroid (or mysterious 9th planet!) is going to strike and destroy the earth within 5 years! But I do know, that if we knew for sure that that phenomenon was indeed going to happen, the whole world would forget everything and preventing that outcome would become the highest, if not the only priority.
In this case of Gene Drive research, at the very minimum, the following could happen –
- Build antidotes FIRST. Test all possible scenarios where antidotes will be able to counter unwanted effects of this technology. This must be fully done before the technology is allowed to leave the labs.
- Appoint safety organization with authority to monitor this technology at every step.
- Modify the genetic composition so that mosquito can’t mutate more than ‘n’ times.
- Develop a test – so that each individual mosquito needs to pass before being released to environment.
- The technology should be allowed to be released only after above steps and then also under highest safety and supervision.
and so on…
As I said, the above is very minimum. I am sure lot more would come out when experts and authorities realize the stakes at hand and decide to come together.
Will this slow down the use of this technology. Absolutely yes. But saving of half million lives can wait – especially if it comes with the reward of preventing potential disaster of several magnitudes higher.